Landowner unwittingly begins clearing ‘ancient spirit forest’

An excavator clears land in Kampong Thom province's Domrey Slab commune last week, which turned out to be a local spiritual forest. Photo supplied
An excavator clears land in Kampong Thom province's Domrey Slab commune last week, which turned out to be a local spiritual forest. Photo supplied

A Kampong Thom landowner was stopped by provincial officials from clearing a piece of land used as a “spirit forest” by local villagers.

Chheng Ku, the landowner, was clearing around 40 hectares of land he bought for use as a paddy field, but received a complaint from provincial officials, who said locals were using the land as a religious site.

“The land [in the past] did not belong to anyone, and we reserved it as a worship place for use by everyone,” said Thiv Vanthy, director of the provincial Agriculture Department.

After Ku was summonsed to court and questioned, he reached a compromise with authorities and villagers to leave 2,500 square metres of the land untouched for locals to use, according to Sen Sopheap, Domrey Slab commune police chief.

“Ku ... agreed to donate 50 metres by 50 metres of Neak Ta Phor Ob because it is a spirit forest, which has been worshipped since ancient times,” Sopheap said, using the local name of the forest.

Seng Sarorn, Sangkum village chief, said the person who surveyed the land probably did not realise there was a small shrine there that people used to pray to the local spirits.

“There is a shrine there and it looks very simple, so the land official did not know there was a Neak Ta there and they included it in the land title,” Sarom said, referring to the forest spirit.